Stamford Arts Centre: A Modern Home for Traditional Arts

The side façade of Stamford Arts Centre at night ⓒ National Arts Council, Singapore

Located at Singapore’s Waterloo Street arts belt, and in close proximity to arts centers, institutions, museums, and schools, the Stamford Arts Centre was re-opened in June 2018 and held its opening celebrations in April 2019 with a weekend of celebratory arts and culture performances and programs.

The Stamford Arts Centre was established in 1988, and today it is an art space dedicated to developing traditional art content and is a destination for the public to enjoy and appreciate traditional arts. The aim is to keep rich and diverse forms of intangible cultural heritage alive in Singapore and make them relevant and accessible to present and future Singaporean generations.

With the completion of redevelopment works that started in 2017, the redeveloped center now comprises a new multipurpose hall (black box), an acoustically treated music studio, several project studios, and other shared facilities. It also features ramps, connecting walkways, and two new lifts were added to improve accessibility across the compound’s three blocks.

The center was a Japanese school in the 1920s and occupied by a recreation center for British soldiers. It was eventually restored in 1988 as the Stamford Arts Centre under the Arts Housing Scheme by the former Ministry of Community Development. It is managed today by the National Arts Council and was gazetted as a conserved building in 1994.

Today, it is home to five arts groups comprising a Chinese chamber music ensemble, a dance troupe known for its contemporary take on Malay traditional dance, a musical association seeking to promote Nanyin and Liyuan opera, an Indian dance troupe fusing traditional Indian dance styles with other art forms, and a training association dedicated to promoting Chinese opera.

The center’s approach of housing diverse traditional arts groups within a centrally located area seeks not only to increase public accessibility to the works of these arts groups but also to provide these arts groups with more opportunities to collaborate and create innovative cross-cultural content that could appeal to a wider audience. It also offers traditional arts residencies under the National Arts Council: an arts residency for artists and arts groups to work on innovative content with a traditional arts focus.

The redeveloped center does not only offer improved infrastructure and new tenants, it also offers visitors new ways of experiencing traditional arts through the use of modern technology. More specifically, visitors to the Stamford Arts Centre can also look forward to learning more about the traditional arts through two new digital experiences: the SAC Walking Trail and the Chinese Opera Stage Tour.

The walking trail offers visitors an interactive, hands-on experience to learn about the history, features, and artists that make up the arts center. The thirty-minute trail uses augmented reality to trigger eight different experiences. Along the trail, visitors can try out classical Indian dance hand gestures, play music instruments and watch short performances in a 3D model of its black box.

The Chinese Opera Stage Tour provides visitors with an immersive seven-minute virtual reality tour and offers a 360-degree view of the traditional Chinese street opera stage. It also offers a close-up look backstage at the costumes, make-up, props, and musical instruments used by traditional street opera troupes in Singapore.

With the re-opening of the Stamford Arts Centre, the National Arts Council hopes to create a vibrant and energetic performing arts centre that supports content creation and artistic collaborations in the field of traditional arts, and bring traditional arts to the heart of the city and closer to the community.